iNaturalist Workshops at GrowTogether, 4/22 & 4/23

Eristalis arbustorum (left) and and Syritta pipiens (right), thick-legged fly, on NOID Lamiaceae, 6&B Community Garden, East VIllage, Manhattan, July 2012

It’s a busy season for me this Spring! NEXT WEEK is New York City NYC’s GreenThumb community gardening program annual conference, known as GrowTogether:

Part 2 of the GreenThumb GrowTogether conference will be hosted in-person in community gardens in all five boroughs in celebration of Earth Week. Join us for workshops about growing food, healthy eating, native pollinators, flower arrangement, planting seeds, screen printing garden swag, volunteer projects, and more. All the activities are free and open to the public!

… The theme of this year’s GrowTogether is “Deeply Rooted: Growing Community Connections.” Community gardeners from across New York City have been gathering at the GrowTogether conference each spring since 1984 to celebrate the start of the garden season with a day of learning, networking, and reconnecting with friends. – Ibid.

38th Annual GreenThumb GrowTogether Conference Part 2 Conference Guide

As noted above, all GrowTogether workshops are open to the public. Please register, as some workshops have limited capacity.

This is my first time participating in GrowTogether. I’ll be giving two different workshops on how to use iNaturalist, Friday in Brooklyn, and Saturday on Staten Island.

Using iNaturalist for Community Gardens and Gardeners

Friday, April 22
Time: 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
(Rain Date: Saturday, April 23, same time)
Location: Vernon Cases Community Garden, 42 Vernon Avenue, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn

iNaturalist is a community/citizen science platform where anyone can record their observations – photos or audio recordings – of any living thing anywhere in the world. Community gardeners and visitors can use iNaturalist to document and keep records about their gardens, such as flowering and fruiting times; identify and keep track of common weeds; and identify insect visitors, whether pests, predators, or pollinators.

In this workshop, we will use iNaturalist “in the field” to make observations of plants and insects and upload them to iNaturalist, creating a record of the biodiversity in a community garden. If you have access to a smartphone, please download the iNaturalist app in advance and bring it to the workshop!

Meet and Greet New York City’s Native Pollinators

Saturday, April 23
Time: 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
(Rain Date: Sunday, April 24, same time)
Location: Hill Street Community Garden, Staten Island

New York City is home to hundreds of species of pollinating insects. While butterflies and bumblebees are easily-spotted inhabitants of our community gardens, meet a few of New York City’s lesser known pollinators—including wasps, flower flies, and specialist bees— during this workshop with Sarah Ward from National Wildlife Federation and Chris Keussling (aka Flatbush Gardener). During a walk through the garden, participants will learn tips and tricks for observing pollinators and welcoming them into our gardens. Participants will also learn how to use the community science app iNaturalist to identify pollinators and contribute valuable data about pollinators in New York City.

Related Content

Torrey Lecture, Wednesday March 30, 2022-03-17


For more information, or to register, for either/both workshop:

38th Annual GreenThumb GrowTogether Conference Part 2 Conference Guide, Greenthumb News


Magicicada Brood II

UPDATED: Expanded and organized into topics.


Magicicada in Staten Island’s Clove Lakes Park

Yesterday, Matthew Wills and I traveled to Staten Island in search of Magicicada, the periodical cicada, specifically, Brood II. We both had examined the online reports and articles; although the south shore of Staten Island is their stronghold, Cloves Lake Park – not that far from the ferry terminal – kept turning up as one of the places they’d been sighted. As a bonus, I had the car, and this park was closest to the Verrazano narrows bridge.

Matthew had some intel that they had been sighted in the northwest section of the park, so we started there. Finding none after scouring the narrow northern end of the park, we packed up and went to the southwestern edge, and parked along Royal Oak Road.


Once Matthew and I found the evidence, it was hard to miss. The ground in many places had numerous exit holes. These are only six inches apart or so.
Magicicada Exit Holes

Closer to the bases of the trees, there were innumerable husks – shed nymphal exoskeletons – as well as disembodied parts of adults that had been eaten by their numerous predators.
Cicada Husks, Corpses, and assorted disembodied parts

We each collected samples at different locations. I’m hoping I can cobble together enough to identify at least one of the species.

Within a minute after we’d parked. Matthew found one nymph struggling through the long grass, the only live individual we found. We took turns posing with it. Here it is on Matthew’s arm, obligingly depositing a generous drop of honeydew. (We didn’t sample it.)
Magicicada Nymph on @BackyardBeyond's forearm, Royal Oak Road, Clove Lakes Park, Staten Island

After our photo shoot, we placed it on the nearest tree, next to my parked car. As we left, we found it again on the tree, just a few feet above where we had placed it. Its appearance had already changed from just an hour or so earlier; it no longer appeared quite so fresh and juicy. It was working on its molt into an adult.
Magicicada Nymph

Their distribution was extremely localized. Even venturing away from the street along the margin of the park turned up relatively few husks, although they were abundant along the street trees. Matthew hypothesized, and I concur, that the paved areas of street and sidewalk create a micro-climate that warms the surrounding soil earlier than more shaded, unpaved areas. So what we found is just the advance guard. The deeper and wilder woods that comprise the southern end of Clove Lakes Park is ideal cicada territory. It’s going to be quite a party.

Given the difficulty we had in finding them, I would recommend to other eco-tourists to wait until the warmer weather later this week, when they should emerge in even greater numbers. Once they begin sounding off – which could be as early as this weekend – they will be easy to locate. It would have saved us a lot of time if the little buggers had been announcing their presence!

About Magicicada

Magicicada spend most of their life underground, suckling on tree roots. Every 13 or 17 years – prime numbers – they emerge as nymphs, metamorphosize into adults and molt their nymphal exoskeletons, mate, and die. Hopefully, they emerge in numbers overwhelming to their predators, who gladly feast upon them.

There are seven identified species: three 17-year species and four 13-year species.

The years of emergence are not hard and fast. Some populations of Brood II emerged in 2009, four years “early” or 13 years, instead of 17 years, after they hatched and burrowed underground. Broods that emerge early or later, – almost always exactly four years off their normal cycle – are called stragglers. Because each species is typically tied to its 13- or 17-year cycle, straggling is believed to play a role in species formation.

Related Content

Flickr photo set: Clove Lakes Park, Staten Island

Magicicada Brood II emerges, 2009-06-04
(Magi)cicada Watch, 2008-05-21


Cloves Lake Park, NYC Parks

The awesome Magicicada Mapping Project (

Greenbelt Native Plant Center, Staten Island

Tim Chambers, Greenbelt Native Plant Center Nursery Manager, and our guide for the tour, explains GNPC’s history and mission at the start of the tour.
Greenbelt Native Plant Center

Monday, May 3, I visited the Greenbelt Native Plant Center (GNPC) for the first time. This tour was one of over 45 events scheduled for NYC Wildflower Week. From the event description:

The Greenbelt Native Plant Center is the only municipal native plant nursery in the country. It is a 13-acre greenhouse, nursery, founder seed and seed bank complex owned and operated by NYC Parks & Recreations Dept. Over the past fifteen years, the center has grown hundreds of thousands of specimens from locally collected seed of the city’s indigenous flora for use in restoration, and replanting projects and is currently developing bulk seed mixes for the city. The GNPC is a partner in the establishment of the first national native seed bank called Seeds of Success.

GNPC operates as a wholesale nursery serving primarily, but not exclusively, restoration projects around the NYC area. GNPC partners with other growers around the region. Not all their efforts go to NYC wild areas and parks; some go to other, nearby restorations, and they also receive plants of specific species when they don’t have the stock to meet the demand.

There are over 2,000 plant species native to the NYC area. GNPC currently propagates about 350, a remarkable proportion. That range is important; GNPC is not just in the business of species preservation, but also restoration of plant communities. That work requires sourcing of many different species, and the plant “palette” required depends on the goals of each project.


It all starts with the collection of seed from the wild. Collections are done throughout the region; NYC itself has over 8,700 acres in 51 nature preserves under its Forever Wild program. Wherever it comes from, the seed collection protocol links back to the mission of GNPC. As Tim Chambers, our guide for the tour, and GNPC’s Nursery Manager, explained to us, non-selection is the goal.

Use of plant materials from local populations ensures the success of ecological restoration or enhancement of natural systems. Our seed collection begins by employing internationally accepted protocols for collecting seeds from wild populations that capture the full genetic variability of a given plant population. Genetic variation is the basis for evolutionary success.
– Mission, GNPC

Part of the protocol includes random sampling across a population. Collecting seed from the most vigorous plants, or those with the largest seedheads, or some other criteria, introduces unnatural, human selection. This distorts the evolutionary history captured in the genetic diversity across the population. The population grown on from those seeds will be less representative of the original, less adapted to the conditions in which the original plants were found, and less suitable for restoration efforts.

Collection must be distributed not just spatially across a population, but across time. A given population may have individuals whose seed ripens slightly earlier, or slightly later, than the bulk of the population. These outliers give the population as a whole more resiliency in the face of unusual or extreme conditions: a drought, an early frost, an unusual outbreak of insects. Seed must be collected throughout the ripening seasons to capture that diversity.


If you’ve never collected seed from your own plants before, I can recommend it. It’s not so straightforward as you might think. You don’t usually collect seeds. You collect the fruits that contain the seeds. Getting the seeds out – separating the seeds from the chaff – can take some work. And it requires different techniques for each species.

Separation Equipment
Seed Lab
Seed Lab
Separation Equipment

Barrels of Chaff

This chaff was softer than the softest feathers or wool you’ve ever felt.


After separation, germination is tested in the Seed Lab. If germination succeeds, it means the seed is ripe; they sow the seeds in trays. They’re germinated and grown in a greenhouse dedicated to this first stage in getting plants from seed.

Propagation Greenhouse
Propagation Greenhouse, Greenbelt Native Plant Center

What results is a dense mat of first growth.

I didn’t get the id of these grass seedlings.
Propagation Greenhouse, Greenbelt Native Plant Center

Amelanchier canadensis, Canadian Serviceberry
Amelanchier canadensis seedlings

Agastache nepetoides, Yellow Giant Hyssop
Agastache nepetoides seedlings

Growing on

To grow past this point, the seedlings must be separated from their siblings. They’re pricked out from the mat and planted in individual containers, just like you find in any plant nursery. It’s delicate, time-consuming work.

Planting out
Planting out

The result is an abundance of beautiful, healthy seedlings of NYC-local ecotype native plants. These will be grown onto successively larger containers, depending on the needs of the projects for which they’ve been contracted.

Pinus strobus, Eastern White Pine. Mature height: 150 feet.
Pinus strobus seedlings
Pinus strobus seedlings

These cute little guys are Liriodendron tulipifera, Tulip Tree. Mature height: 120 feet.
Liriodendron tulipifera seedlings

Preparation and Storage



Related Content

Flickr photo set


Greenbelt Native Plant Center
Forever Wild
NYC Wildflower Week

Magicicada Brood II emerges

I was excited to hear that periodical cicadas are emerging on Staten Island. Knowing my interest in such things, Blog Widow alerted me that he had just read about it on one of his favorite blogs, Joe My God, reporting on an article in the Staten Island Advance:

Batches of cicadas, those giant, singing insects that emerge in a massive swarm every 17 years, have begun to poke their heads out of the earth … Similar early risers have been detected all along the Eastern Seaboard … Some of the obnoxiously loud insects have been seen, and heard, in Wolfe’s Pond Park in Huguenot and in Great Kills backyards in recent weeks.
Cicadas are out, loud and early, Phil Helsel, Staten Island Advance, 2009-06-04

I wrote last year about Magicicada, the genus of periodical cicadas, last year, in anticipation of the emergence of Brood XIV in Brooklyn. Alas, they never showed up; they seem to have been extirpated in Brooklyn, historically part of their range.

In any given area, adult periodical cicadas emerge only once every 13 or 17 years, they are consistent in their life cycles, and populations (or “broods”) in different regions are not synchronized. Currently there are 7 recognized species, 12 distinct 17-year broods, and 3 distinct 13-year broods, along with 2 known extinct broods, found east of the Great Plains and south of the Great Lakes, to the Florida Panhandle.
Magicicada Mapping Project

The next brood in the NYC area was Brood II, a 17-year brood, expected in 2013. But it has emerged four years early, in 2009.

Some periodical cicadas belonging to Brood II are emerging in several states along the east coast. … The extent of this year’s acceleration is not known, but could occur anywhere in the Brood II distribution …
Cicadas, College of Mount St. Joseph

Off-year emergence, whether it precedes or follows the expected year, is called “straggling”:

The exact causes, or even the prevalence, of straggling is not well understood. Straggler records have long confounded attempts to make accurate maps of Magicicada broods, which is one of the reasons the Magicicada mapping project exists. Among 17-year cicadas, straggling seems particularly common 1 or 4 years before or after an expected emergence (e.g., cicadas emerging in 13, 16, 18, and 21 years), although stragglers with other life cycle lengths have also been found. Straggling has been detected in all seven Magicicada species.
Stragglers, Magicicada Mapping Project

The historical range of Brood II does not, unfortunately, include Brooklyn.

Similar early risers have been detected all along the Eastern Seaboard, and an Ohio researcher who has studied the bugs for 35 years is sure warmer winters are to blame.

“This is the fifth brood where part of it is coming out early,” said Gene Kritsky, an entomologist and professor at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati. “When you have a phenomenon that is that widespread, the most likely candidate is some kind of climate-driven response.” …

Parts of broods coming out four years too early is a phenomenon first documented in 1969 in Chicago, but prior documents suggest it may have occurred earlier. The last time Brood II came out in full force was in 1996, and most of that brood still will burrow out of their underground homes on time in 2013.

Kritsky, who has studied cicadas for 35 years and expects his most recent findings to be published this month in Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science, said the fluid disruption caused by warm winters affects cicadas only during their first five years of life, and it always results in emerging four years too early.
Cicadas are out, loud and early


Related Content

(Magi)Cicada Watch, 2008-05-21


Cicadas are out, loud and early, Phil Helsel, Staten Island Advance, 2009-06-04
Cicadas Appear Four Years Early, Joe MY God, 2009-06-04

Brood II, Magicicada Mapping Project

Brood XIV, Massachusetts Cicadas
Cicada Central, University of Connecticut
Cicada Web Site, College of Mount St. Joseph, Cincinnati, OH
Chicago Cicadas
Magicicada, Wikipedia
Mathematicians explore cicada’s mysterious link with primes, Michael Stroh, Baltimore Sun, May 10, 2004

Final NYC Compost Giveback

The Fresh Kills Composting Site in Staten Island
Compost Pickup, Fresh Kills Composting Site, Staten Island

The very last ever, until something changes, NYC Compost Giveback takes place this weekend in the Bronx, and in two weeks in Staten Island. Since there’s no funding in the budget for fall leaf pickup, there will be no more leaves, and no more givebacks, after this.


Saturday & Sunday, OCTOBER 4 & 5, 8am to 2pm (rain or shine)
Soundview DSNY Composting Site (at the end of Randall Ave. close to the Bruckner

Saturday & Sunday, OCTOBER 18 & 19, 8am to 2pm (rain or shine)
Fresh Kills DSNY Composting Site (off West Service Rd. near exit 7 of Rt. 440)

NYC residents and community groups from any borough can get unlimited amounts of
free compost at these events. This high-quality, natural soil enhancer is made out
of leaves that DSNY collected from City residents and institutions.

At the Compost Givebacks, NYC residents can also purchase discounted compost bins
for $20 (subsidized by DSNY-BWPRR) to make their own compost.

Related Posts



Fall 2008 Compost Givebacks and Bin Sales
Sanitation Announces Plan to Collect Fallen Leaves [as garbage, not for composting], Press release, Department of Sanitation, New York City, 2008-09-22
NYC Compost Project

Rabies in NYC: Facts and Figures

With all of the recent interest in raccoons and other wildlife, rabies is frequently raised as a concern. The New York City Department of Health has information on rabies on its Web site. Anyone concerned about the risk of exposure to rabies from interactions with wildlife in NYC should review the DOH information, which I’ll summarize here:

  • There have been no human cases of rabies in New York City for more than 50 years. In all of New York State, there have only been 14 cases since 1925.
  • Staten Island, with 29 rabid animals reported last year, and 35 in 2006, has a greater incidence of rabid animals than the rest of the city combined. The risk there is serious enough that DOH has issued a Rabies Alert [PDF, English/Español] for Staten Island.
  • The Bronx, with 14 reports last year and only 6 the year before, has less than half the incidence of Staten Island.
  • Brooklyn has had only 5 rabid animal reports in the past 15 years, and only 1 in the past 5.
  • Although city-wide, raccoons are the most frequently reported rabid animal, in Brooklyn no raccoons have been reported in the past 15 years.

So, although caution is always wise, there’s no need to fear these animals. Except for Staten Island, the risk of exposure is extremely low. Spending time outside in New York City, you’re more at risk from West Nile Virus than rabies.

What is rabies?


Rabies is a preventable viral disease of mammals (including humans) most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. The rabies virus infects the central nervous system. Rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms appear. The vast majority of rabies cases in the United States each year occur in wild animals like raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes. Animal rabies is reported annually in New York City and State, primarily in bats, skunks and raccoons. New York City first saw rabies in animals starting in 1992, and continues to every year, especially among animals in the Bronx.

In the United States, rabies rarely infects humans because of companion animal vaccination programs and the availability of human rabies vaccine. There have been no human cases of rabies in New York City for more than 50 years. New York State has reported 14 human cases since 1925.

Human rabies vaccine, if administered promptly and as recommended, can prevent infection after a person has been bitten or otherwise exposed to an animal with rabies. The human rabies vaccine is given in a series of five vaccinations along with one initial dose of rabies immune globulin (RIG). The one time dose of RIG and five vaccines administered over the course of one month is referred to as post exposure prophylaxis (PEP).

What Can People Do To Protect Themselves Against Rabies?

(New York State Department of Health)

Don’t feed, touch or adopt wild animals, stray dogs or cats.

Be sure your dogs, cats and ferrets are up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations. [Note: This is the law in New York City.] Vaccinated pets serve as a buffer between rabid wildlife and man. Protect them, and you may reduce your risk of exposure to rabies. Vaccines for dogs, cats and ferrets after three months of age are effective for a one-year period. Revaccinations are effective for up to three years. Pets too young to be vaccinated should be kept indoors. Some new vaccines have now been licensed, and therefore, can be used for younger animals.

Don’t try to separate two fighting animals. Wear gloves if you handle your pet after a fight.

Keep family pets indoors at night. Don’t leave them outside unattended or let them roam free.

Don’t attract wild animals to your home or yard. Keep your property free of stored bird seed or other foods that may attract wild animals. Feed pets indoors. Tightly cap or put away garbage cans. [And your compost bins containing food waste or scraps.] Board up any openings to your attic, basement, porch or garage. Cap your chimney with screens.

Bats can be particularly difficult to keep out of buildings because they can get through cracks as small as a pencil. Methods to keep bats out (batproofing) of homes and summer camps should be done during the fall and winter. If bats are already inside (e.g., in an attic or other areas), consult with your local health department about humane ways to remove them.

Encourage children to immediately tell an adult if they are bitten by any animal. Tell children not to touch any animal they do not know.

If a wild animal is on your property, let it wander away. Bring children and pets indoors and alert neighbors who are outside. You may contact a nuisance wildlife control officer who will remove the animal for a fee.

Report all animal bites or contact with wild animals to your local health department. Don’t let any animal escape that has possibly exposed someone to rabies. Depending on the species, it can be observed or tested for rabies in order to avoid the need for rabies treatment. This includes bats with skin contact or found in a room with a sleeping person, unattended child, or someone with mental impairment. Bats have small, sharp teeth and in certain circumstances people can be bitten and not know it.


NYC Department of Health: Rabies (Hydrophobia)
New York State Department of Health: Rabies

The Other Shoe Has Dropped: ALB Found on Staten Island

Just two weeks ago, USDA APHIS reported that Anoplophora glabripennis, Asian Longhorned Beetle (ALB for short) was found on Prall’s Island, an uninhabited island in the strait between New Jersey and Staten Island, about a mile south of the Goethals Bridge. Yesterday the Parks Department announced that ALB was found on Staten Island six days ago:

The New York City Department of New York Parks & Recreation, New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets (NYS DAM), New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC), and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced that the Asian Longhorned beetle (ALB), an insect classified by the USDA as an invasive species and an imminent threat to the United States and New York City’s forest ecosystem, has spread to Staten Island. An infested silver maple tree, located on a private wood lot in Bloomfield, is the first evidence of the beetle found on mainland Staten Island, and was detected on March 22, 2007 by USDA tree climbers. Surveys intensified on Staten Island since the detection of infested trees on nearby Prall’s Island. To date, only one infested tree has been detected on the mainland and survey crews will continue to inspect ALB host trees to determine if any additional trees are infested. Due south, on the 88-acre, uninhabited Prall’s Island which is owned and operated by Parks & Recreation as a bird sanctuary, 37 ALB-infested red maple and gray birch trees have been discovered since March 1, 2007. Not all trees on Prall’s Island have been surveyed.

The ALB-infested tree in Bloomfield sports light damage in the form of ten egg sites in its canopy. When inspected by USDA climbers in May 2006 just prior to flight season, the tree was not infested, leading experts to believe that the tree has been infested for less than a year. USDA surveyors inspected the wood lot following the confirmation of significant infestation on nearby Prall’s Island, which is located in close proximity to ALB-infested areas in New Jersey. Parks continues to work with partner agencies on the federal and state levels to monitor both infested areas of Staten Island for further signs of the beetle, develop strategies to remove infested and potential host trees, and dispose of removed trees in a manner with minimal ecological impacts.

This is really discouraging news.

Related Posts

GAO Report: Invasive Forest Pests, May 2006


Parks’ ALB Home Page
New York DEC ALB page
University of Vermont ALB Reference